The main way to do this is to review and then only undertake new transparent contract arrangements, hold regular media audits and hire a chief media office. In other words, be transparent, audit the fact that you're being transparent and have someone in charge of that transparency.
Ironically, this advice -- which is perfectly suited to the UK -- comes from a country, the U.S., where the shadier, darker side of media buying is not allowed. Namely, that means the practice of offering cash rebates or rebates as inventory or charging for additional consulting services (that's a kickback by any other name) is outlawed. Judging by the fact that the ANA has had to address transparency, however, one has to assume the advertising body suspects the darker side of media is happening in America too, although the major agencies all deny the charge.
The reason this is big news for digital marketing is that it's not only American advertisers that are tuned in to the need for greater transparency. It has been a point that ANA's UK equivalent, ISBA, has been making for several years. Advertisers are aware that media agencies get rebates from publishers to encourage them to be a part of their media plans. How you feel about that may vary, depending on whether, as an advertiser, you feel that you're getting a slice of the action and some of that rebate is bringing down the cost of your media.
These kickbacks are not the biggest issue -- the real rub comes with media contracts. This is where advertisers must be incredibly careful and know what incentivises their media buying and planning agency. If a buyer has deals with a tv station and a major online publisher that requires it to put a set amount of business their way to achieve a particular price, then you can see where future tensions may lie. The volumes need to be high to earn that low price, but what if the tv station and the major publishers aren't the best fit for a particular brand? What then? Does the media buyer prioritise the brand and seek out inventory and spots that are better suited to it, or does he or she turn a bind eye and buy space that is not ideal but helps keep their volumes up and ensures a low price for all?
The advertising world is filled with stories of brands that find their budget is prioritised around a media buyer's requirements rather than theirs. There are many stories of brands that have missed out on advertising against television shows that are a good fit because there has been a row between the station and their buyer or because the buyer has put them on a station they have the best deal with.
So although American media buyers say the charges don't apply on the other side of the proverbial pond, ANA's suggestions are still appropriate for the UK and the EU. It's time for digital advertising to be more transparent and to demonstrate that transparency to clients. To hold your hands up and say you've turned a corner is one thing. To be able to show a client how you can audit that claim to prove it is quite another.